Unvaccinated staff whose work cannot be done at home risk dismissal in 2022

Office workers wearing protective face masks cross a street, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in the central business district in Singapore January 11, 2021. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Office workers wearing protective face masks during the coronavirus disease outbreak in the central business district in Singapore on 11 January, 2021. (Reuters file photo) (Edgar Su / reuters)

SINGAPORE — For unvaccinated employees in Singapore whose work cannot be performed from home, employers can opt to terminate their employment as a last resort from 1 January next year.

Such employees can be terminated with notice in accordance with their employment contracts, according to a workplace advisory updated on Saturday (23 October) by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

"If termination of employment is due to employees’ inability to be at the workplace to perform their contracted work, such termination of employment would not be considered as wrongful dismissal," the ministry said.

This comes as the COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce announced on Saturday that from 1 January next year, only employees who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 within the past 270 days, can return to the workplace.

All unvaccinated employees will not be allowed at the workplace unless they have a negative pre-event testing result, which must be valid for the duration that they are required to be present at the premises. The tests are to be done at their own expense and own time outside of working hours.

However, the MOM stressed that termination should be a last resort for employers after considering other options, including allowing employees to continue in their existing jobs with pre-event testing done.

Employers can also consider redeploying these employees to suitable jobs which can be done from home, with remuneration commensurate with the new responsibilities, or place them on no-pay leave. Such working arrangements "remain the employers’ prerogative".

"As the vast majority of vaccinated employees eventually return to the workplace more frequently, the prolonged absence of the unvaccinated employees from the workplace may affect their individual performance as well as negatively impact team or organisational performance," said the MOM.

For employees who are certified to be medically ineligible for vaccines under the national vaccination programme, employers should consider allowing them to work from home if they are able to do so, the ministry added.

Their absence from the workplace should not affect the assessment of their performance.

Similarly for such employees, employers can redeploy them to suitable work-from-home jobs, or exempt them from pre-event testing requirements when they are required to work onsite.

The MOM strongly encouraged pregnant employees to be vaccinated with the vaccines under the national programme as soon as possible.

The ministry urged employers to give special consideration to the needs and concerns of their pregnant employees and consider support measures for them similar to those for medically ineligible employees.

As of 17 October, 70 per cent of firms in Singapore have attained 100 per cent vaccine coverage for their workforce, with 96 per cent of the total workforce fully vaccinated.

The MOH noted that around 113,000 employees have yet to be vaccinated, with around 14,000 aged 60 and above who are at a very high risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19. Only a "small proportion" of the unvaccinated workforce are medically ineligible for vaccination, said the ministry.

"A fully vaccinated workforce will be able to operate more safely and at much lower risk to employees’ lives. We must also be prepared to take stronger steps to protect those who, due to medical reasons, cannot receive any vaccine," said the MOM.

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